How to stay on track when you're eating out.

How to stay on track when you're eating out.

Eating out can be tricky when you're trying to eat better: portions can be giant, and restaurant meals may contain hidden fat, carbs and calories. That doesn't mean you have to skip eating out entirely if you're trying to eat mindfully-but it's always best to go in with a plan. Here are some top stay-on-track restaurant strategies:

Offer to choose the restaurant. Do your research beforehand, and find a restaurant that offers a wide array of options-including healthy ones.

Don't arrive famished or you'll succumb to the bread basket. Have a light protein-rich snack to take the edge off your hunger-say, a few almonds or a piece of string cheese-just before leaving for the restaurant.

Read the whole menu. Get a feel for what's available and estimate the calories before you make a decision about what to order.

Decide what's most important. Stick to one "extra" item: enjoy an appetizer or dessert or a glass of wine, not all three.

Have a default order. Develop a mental list of fallback meals you can count on no matter what the menu. Just about any restaurant kitchen can cook up baked chicken or broiled fish with vegetables.

Be the first to order. That way you won't be tempted to go along when the rest of the gang orders more than you'd like to eat.

Consider à la carte. Try getting a soup or salad and an appetizer, or a couple of side dishes, instead of an overly large entree. Many restaurants these days offer smaller "tasting" plates or tapas-size portions too. They are worth a try and often just right in size.

Split the difference. If an entrée sounds like too much food, see if one of your dining companions would like to share it with you. Or set aside half of the food as soon as it arrives and ask the waiter to wrap it up for you.

Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. Most restaurants use a heavy hand with toppings. When they're on the side you can control the amount without having to miss out. Rather than pouring them on, dip the tip of your fork into the dressing or sauce, then take a bite of food, so you'll get a little taste in every bite.

Ask questions. Request that food be prepared your way, within reason (there's absolutely nothing wrong with requesting a salad on the side instead of fries). Ask politely but unapologetically; remember, restaurants are in the service business. Most are more than willing to accommodate your request.

The EatingWell Diet (2007)